10-Year-Old Movie Critic Becomes A Star Himself

Film critic Perry Chen. i i

hide captionFilm critic Perry Chen at the press screening of How to Train Your Dragon in Los Angeles.

Courtesy of Perry Chen
Film critic Perry Chen.

Film critic Perry Chen at the press screening of How to Train Your Dragon in Los Angeles.

Courtesy of Perry Chen

Ten-year-old Perry Chen of San Diego is making a name for himself as a film critic with his Web site, PerrysPreviews.com.

The precocious youngster recently gave DreamWorks' new animated film, How to Train Your Dragon, 4.5 starfish out of 5, calling it "perrific" — a word he coined by combining his name with "terrific."

Perry tells NPR's Liane Hansen he uses starfish to rate movies instead of stars to be more "kid-friendly."

"Because I'm a kid, actually."

When reviewing a movie, Perry says he looks for strong characters, interesting story lines and "stunning" visuals. But the most important aspect of all for him is that a movie has a powerful moral, like Dragon did.

Perry says the film taught that "friends are more powerful than foes, and being different empowers you to see what others cannot."

Review: How To Train Your Dragon

A pencil drawing of a dragon.

hide captionA pencil drawing of a dragon.

Courtesy of Perry Chen

Rating: 4 1/2 starfish (out of 5)

How could a wimpy kid who is so different form everyone else defy others' expectation and become a true hero and leader?

In the new DreamWorks animation action-adventure thriller "How to Train Your Dragon," Hiccup, an eccentric adolescent with a weak build but a strong sense of humor, lives on the Island of Berk, a bustling place full of imposing, muscular Vikings, led by "Stoick the Vast," the Viking Chief and the father of Hiccup, who could not hide his disappointment for his only son.

In Berk, fighting swarms of nightmarish dragons is a way of life for centuries. Gobber, the comical blacksmith and dragon fighting coach, is one of Hiccup's few true friends. Gobber lost his arm and leg from earlier dragon fighting. He has a unique "no-nonsense" style of training, making his apprentices "throw themselves at the dragons." He figures that the ones who survive will surly survive on the battlefield.

Another genuine friend of Hiccup's turns out to be one of a different kind: a "Night Fury" dragon, the most intelligent and mysterious kind that nobody else had ever seen before. One dark night, Hiccup captured an unseen creature with his own flying net. The next day, he saw the Night Fury dragon: pitch black, fierce, but also injured and helpless. Seeing the fear in its eyes, Hiccup set it free, a crime against the Viking's code of conduct! Hiccup repaired the injured dragon's tail which he had shot off, and gave him his favorite food: fish. In return, the dragon (whom Hiccup named "Toothless") took him on many thrilling flights and revealed to him the deepest secrets of dragons.

The secrets of dragons gave Hiccup a surprising edge in his dragon training, which shocked the formerly most promising Viking teen, Astrid, a new character absent from the original book. Astrid, a hardworking and super-competitive girl, gradually warmed up to Hiccup as he shared his hidden world.

The problem is that Viking's sworn enemies are dragons, and with that risk, Hiccup cannot keep Toothless a secret forever...

In the end, Hiccup became an unexpected hero, using his hidden power, ultimately redeeming himself and changing the lives of every Viking villagers, forever.

My favorite part of the film is how Hiccup tamed Toothless. The scene when Hiccup reached out his hand for Toothless to touch for the first time, is the most magical scene in the film. My favorite character is obviously Hiccup, who seemed wimpy and different at first, but is the one with true power inside. Hiccup and I also share a passion for dragon and drawing. I was born in 2000, the year of the Dragon, and consider myself a "Dragonologist," one of my favorite books that I own is "How to raise and keep a dragon." I have drawn so many different kinds of dragons and made tin-foiled animal sculptures of dragon.

More importantly, Hiccup and I share a gentleness, innocence, and kindness towards other living creatures which enabled us to tame wild animals: dragons for him and a deer for me. I still remember vividly how a beautiful deer approached me and licked my hand and head at the San Diego Wild Animal Park when I was three years old and just moved to San Diego from San Francisco. I noticed that the deer did not lick any other kids even when they petted her. It is easier to tame an animal when it has no fear for you.

"How to Train Your Dragons" is an epic tale packed with adventure, action, humor, stunning 3D visuals and beautiful music. I give it 4.5 starfish, it is as good as Up! It is a film that I think every child and parent will love to experience. The movie is about friendship, connection, redemption, and the hidden power of "being different."

This is the first time that I am invited to a film's press junket, held at the luxurious 5-star and 5-diamond rated Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills on March 20, 2010. What an experience! I gave it 5 starfish rating myself: I got to pick TWO favorite toys in the gift basket the moment my mom and I arrived, and another gift when we were checking out! The fragrant air smelled like orchids and cinnamon, the food is amazing, and the service is even better. Stacy, the nice waitress and I became instant friends. I had a blast at the swimming pool with two boys from New York and London.

The coolest part of the press junket was interviewing directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, voice talents Jay Baruchel (Hiccup), America Ferguson (Astrid), and Craig Ferguson (Gobber).

When I shared my 4.5 starfish rating, the directors and actors were all curious about the missing half starfish. I asked them: How could Hiccup survive flying on the back of Toothless at 50,000 feet in the air, without suffocating or freezing to death? Directors Sanders and DeBlois laughed and joked that they would make sure to prepare oxygen tank and protective gear for Hiccup next time.

America Ferguson laughed so hard when I said, "I guess it's poetic license," and became my instant fan! America thought Astrid added a lot to the story because "she was the best and always challenged Hiccup to be the person he should be." Craig Ferguson, who played Gobber, challenged me to take flying lessons. He said the best part of his role in the film was not having to dress up for work!

Unlike "Hideous Zippleback," the two-headed dragon in the film whose two heads fight all the time, directors Sanders and DeBlois have a warm friendship since their "Mulan" collaboration and share similar tastes in the kind of movies they like to make. What happens when you disagree? I asked. "Usually we make coupons for each other, so that if one of us wins this argument, the other can use the coupon to win the next one," said DeBlois. Asked about the stunning designs of various dragons in the film, Sanders said, "We worked with a terrific artist who designed over a thousand different dragons, some from the book, others from his own imagination. Some of them are as good as yours!" He was referring to my Chinese Imperial dragon I drew last year at Disney D23 expo.

Jay Baruchel and I shared thoughts about being different as I asked him how he drew his own life experiences to play Hiccup. "I remember all the other kids outside playing soccer or hockey when I was growing up, but all I wanted to do was reading comic books, watching cartoons, or write stories. I was different just like Hiccup, and I always think of myself as the one with true power inside," said Jay, "You need to be proud of how different you are, because difference is what makes the world interesting. The people who have everything come easy, who don't have to fight for anything, who are everyone's favorite all the time, they don't have anything interesting to say." I couldn't agree more!

"How to Train Your Dragon" is not only a thrilling action adventure, but also a tale with deep emotion and strong morale: Friends are more powerful than foes. Being different empowers you to see what others cannot see.

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